Now that the dust has finally settled over the Panama case verdict, we’re perhaps in a better position to turn towards less urgent problems that we are facing. These include pollution, floods and the health issues that result from these problems.
After watching the nerve-racking Panama case media coverage, it’s simply refreshing to realise that we can now move – albeit momentarily – from the political to the not-so-political.
But the poisonous dust that literally suspends in the air above our heads doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. The only hope is that somewhere, someone is thinking about it and thus setting an example for others to follow.
While we were busy in our sacred duty of cleansing our political landscape from the pollution of corruption and deceit, people in some parts of the world are sweating their guts out to contain the levels of pollution in the environment.
The UK is going to set an example for others to follow. To reduce nitrogen oxide (NO2) emissions in the environment, the UK government has recently announced that it will ban the sale of all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. This is, indeed, an ambitious target that has been contested mainly by their automobile industry and other stakeholders. But someone rightly said that it is still more important to set a target than fear whether a target could be achieved.
One may ask why such an isolated endeavour to contain air pollution by a country of the developed world would matter to a developing country like ours. What’s wrong with breathing poisonous air? Who complains of respiratory diseases? What’s good in knowing the effects of a polluted environment on our mind and body and how they can be treated?
After all these years, rather decades, of running awareness campaigns about the deteriorating environment by climate change experts, journalists, and volunteers around the world – including our own country – one can hope that we value the centrality of a clean environment to a healthy life. At least we know today that mankind is living under one roof on a shared earth separated only by mountains and seas. So, what’s our plan of action against a problem that we have created for ourselves?
The first question could be: are we Pakistanis ready to ask questions? Do we have a transparent mechanism to collect information about our environment? Do we have statistics in the first place? Do we have access to information on environment issues? Is there any plan of action at the government level to save our climate? Why is there such an alarmingly high level of apathy towards a matter of life and death?
While the combined efforts of the developed and the developing world at various forums give us some hope, the role of individual countries is no less significant. Questions about what we are doing as Pakistanis to bring down the levels of pollution in our environment is not difficult to answer: not much.
This brings us to some critical environmental issues facing our country today that are linked to each other and ultimately translate into health hazards: the use of coal in producing energy, for example, produces industrial waste and contaminates drinking water. While the rest of the world – including China – is washing its hands off coal, we have no qualms about the plans to produce energy from coal.
This is happening at a time when the situation is already not reassuring. Understandably, a report by the World Bank in 2014, titled ‘Cleaning Pakistan’s Air’, states that Pakistan’s urban air pollution “is among the most severe in the world and it engenders significant damage to human health and the economy”.
There’s another way of looking at the issue: from the bottom. The traffic warden looking the other way while a vehicle or a rickshaw whizzes past him and billows thick clouds of smoke is equally complicit in adding to the pollution. When a government official, who is responsible for keeping an eye on the industrial waste and ensuring whether it has been treated or not, blindly accepts the version of the industry’s owner, he or she is also a partner-in-crime.
While the urban areas are engulfed by polluted air, rural areas are inundated by severe floods every year around this time – a stark manifestation that we are not treating nature gently and are being paid in the same coin.
Flashfloods have claimed scores of lives during the last few years – such as in 2010 – due to the absence of an efficient and effective flood warning system. Experts say unchecked deforestation in Pakistan has also added to our vulnerability to floods.
The situation leads us to a point where we cannot escape environmental degradation. We need an efficient system to be put in place. But how will things change? How will our approach to tackle critical issues change? At the moment, the signs do not appear to be positive.
On the economic front, Pakistan’s GSP Plus status to access the European markets is under the watchful eye of the EU over the implementation of seven conventions on environment out of 27 international conventions. Obviously, in today’s world, a country’s economy is so deeply dependent on its commitment to international environmental commitments.
There is so much more to be done. After the passage of the 18th Amendment, among other things, the provincial governments should be capable of facing the challenge of climate change. Then why is there so much reluctance?
The writer works at The News on Sunday.